(Jan. 18, 2013) The Ocean City Council addressed the following matters during its Jan. 15 work session:
Council briefly debated this week how liberal it should be with allowing citizen commentary during work sessions, which typically do not feature audience participation. Council members Brent Ashley and Margaret Pillas suggested that citizens should be allowed to comment on agenda items at Tuesday afternoon meetings as they were discussed, with the same five-minute time limit that applies to the open citizen commentary section which happens at the end of Monday night’s regular sessions.
“I don’t see anything wrong with a five-minute time limit, as long as it’s on topic, and reserve Monday night to talk about whatever you want,” Pillas said.
However, the rest of council preferred coming up with a more structured solution.
“I’ve brought this up with David [Recor, the City Manager] before, and he has a couple ideas,” said Council President Lloyd Martin. Among these would be to have citizen commentary at the beginning of the session. But Ashley was concerned that much of what people comment on comes from the discussion or presentation itself, and not just from the information given ahead of time in the agenda.
Another possibility, suggested Councilman Dennis Dare, would be to have a sign-up sheet that’s available before the meeting, so that citizens could register to speak when a given item comes up.
“When you have an agenda published, you allow people to sign up ahead of time to speak. That allows participation from people who are vested in that particular topic,” Dare said. Those who just wish to argue for argument’s sake will have to wait until Monday night.
“It’s comments from the public – not questions, not debate,” Recor said. “The idea is not to limit citizen participation, it is to ensure the smooth movement of the process.”
The council will review its procedures when it meets again, on Feb. 1 and 2, with strategic planning consultant Lyle Sumek.
“I think the intention of the motion [from Pillas and Ashley] was a good one … only let us go through this on the first and second,” said Mayor Rick Meehan.
Council voted 5-2 to develop a recommendation during the February strategic planning session, with Ashley and Pillas in favor of more immediate action.
Inlet parking bid
City Engineer Terry McGean said he was “pretty surprised and disappointed” that the city only received one bid for the project to update the control system at the inlet parking lot, following McGean’s work with a consultant this fall on how best to improve the lot’s toll system.
“I have talked to our consultant … and the single bidder he believes is responsible and has a good quality product,” McGean said. “Because we’re on a real time push here, I’d like to see if we could work it out with the single bidder.”
That bidder was CTR Systems Inc., at a cost of $399,260.91.
The primary improvement, McGean said, will be to install automated payment machines in each exit lane. Currently, only one lane has such a system installed. The new kiosks will still allow for a booth attendant, but will be able to be used by those patrons with credit cards, even if a human operator is not present.
The bid proposal also contains an optional installation of four charging stations for electric cars, a potential nod towards future energy trends. The mayor and Council will have to decide whether to exercise that option when the specification comes up for final approval, following McGean’s inspection of the lone bidder.
The city received bids for repairs to be made at the inlet end of the Boardwalk, as well as the almost complete replacement of the small “bayside boardwalk” on Chicago Avenue between 4th and 2nd Streets, as a result of damage sustained during Hurricane Sandy.
Only one bid for construction was received, submitted by the same contractor, Rehak’s LLC, that is doing the previously scheduled Boardwalk renovation. The cost is $229,090.00.
“Fortunately, or unfortunately, the contracting business has picked up quite a bit, and we’re probably not going to get as many people interested in these jobs as before,” said Councilman Joe Mitrecic, himself a contractor.
“In terms of funding these repairs, we do believe that we’re going to get reimbursed 75 cents on the dollar from storm damage relief money,” City Engineer Terry McGean said. “We are significantly under budget on the Boardwalk project and we could use those funds if needed.”
The Boardwalk renovation project, which is rebuilding the promenade between Somerset and 15th Street, is currently ahead by $1.65 million, which McGean said is due to the contractor’s ability to re-sell the scrapped wood.
“My original specification allowed for a worst-case scenario, where we would have to get rid of the wood and pay tipping fees and the landfill,” McGean said.
Mitigation funds transfer
Council approved the movement of money from the city’s Stormwater and Critical Areas Mitigation Funds to finance the environmental programs for which the funds’ money is earmarked.
The city collects offset fees from builders and developers whose projects will affect the island’s water runoff capacity or its environmentally critical areas, namely wetlands. These funds are then used for programs that compensate for the environmental effects.
The council will draw $10,000 from the Critical Areas fund to be used for planting and landscaping programs, a level of funding that is expected to keep the initiatives going for three to four more years. Sponsoring the installation of water-absorbing vegetative barriers helps prevent an excessive runoff of street water into natural habitats, which often occurs when swaths of impermeable surfaces, such as pavement, are built.
“[The programs] are really well received by the public, and they use the mitigation money from the offsets by certain developers who don’t do enough elsewhere [to mitigate drainage],” said city Environmental Engineer Gail Blazer.
Blazer also requested that $2,500 from the similar Stormwater Mitigation Fund to finance the hiring of an intern, who will help her conduct a comprehensive water quality assessment in the downtown area.
Council discussed amending the city’s noise code to require that a landlord’s designated agent must live in Maryland and within 30 miles of Ocean City.
The noise code specifies than anyone who provides transient lodging in a residential structure – i.e., those who rent homes or condos on a weekly or seasonal basis – must pay a small fee to register with the city, which tracks properties via a permit number and a door sticker. If the landlord fails to take measures against repeated complaints of disturbance from the residence, the city can revoke the right to rent.
Last year, Noise Board Chairman Brett Wolf told council that many permit applicants were not adhering to a rule requiring nonresident landlords to provide an agent who is a city resident and can be notified of noise issues.
In attempting to crack down on the problem, however, city License Inspector Michael Sherman said that many such agents were themselves located outside of Ocean City. If the rule were to be enforced more strictly, it would be best to allow the use of responsible agents who, while not city residents, were available in a suitable distance.
There was some question as to the actual utility of such agents, given that they do not hold the legal power to evict a problem tenant on the landlord’s behalf.
“Notice to the agent constitutes notice to the owner,” said City Solicitor Guy Ayres, “so the next time the police are contacted, they can prove that they already notified the property of the problem.”
The city agreed to maintain its partnership with the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce in producing and distributing the Ocean City Visitor’s Guide, an arrangement first reached in 2010.
In the latest iteration of the partnership, however, the chamber was fully responsible for the design and production of the guide, with the city contributing $1 per guide that was requested by mail. This cost, last year, was roughly $12,000, according to city Tourism Director Donna Abbott. Further, the city commits to spend roughly $16,000 on buying ads in the guide.
“Based on the distribution cost incurred last year, the chamber is requesting additional funds to cover the increasing cost of postage,” Abbot said. “Instead of paying a dollar per piece, which is what we’re paying now, we would be paying 25 percent of the chamber’s annual distribution cost.”
Such a change would increase the contribution from $12,000 to about $20,000.
However, according to chamber Executive Director Melanie Pursel, direct mailing is an ever-smaller part of the pie.
“There’s a lot more to distribution than just mailing,” she said. “There are about 250 bulk locations throughout the Mid-Atlantic that we send cases of books to. When we put that all together as a distribution plan, we’d like that the town is going to help us out with 25 percent of that.”
Council was somewhat hesitant about the steep increase. Councilman Doug Cymek suggested that a hard cap of $20,000 be added to the 25 percent clause.
“Don’t take it as distrust, I just think that there should be a limit established,” Cymek said.
Councilman Brent Ashley noted that, many years ago, the chamber’s guidebooks were usually independently profitable. It was his understanding that the chamber was working back towards self-sufficiency with the OC Visitor’s Guide.
“We’re not just saying that we’re going to make more profit by getting more money from the city,” Pursel said. Given the competitiveness of the market, “we’ve just reinvested, really, what we’ve gotten from the city … to make it a more attractive piece.”
Despite increasing costs, said Councilwoman Margaret Pillas, “we still want some say in that book, and to have a say we have to keep the partnership going.